What to expect in Memphis Showboats vs. Michigan Panthers

The Michigan Panthers are coming off their first loss of the season while the Memphis Showboats are looking for their first win.

That will be the overarching storyline on Saturday when the two teams kick off a full weekend slate of USFL games between Detroit and Canton.

Michigan opened play in the USFL’s much-anticipated return to Detroit last week. On hand were Detroit sports legends Ben Wallace and Calvin Johnson, as the raucous crowd cheered on the hometown team. But the New Jersey Generals proved too much for the Panthers, exploiting run lanes and amassing 198 yards on the ground against Mike Nolan’s squad. Jersey seemingly provided the blueprint for how to attack the previously streaking Panthers, and the Showboats should take notice.

Meanwhile, Memphis sits in the cellar of this week’s power rankings, and it’s in large part due to their lack of a ground game. Showboats running backs carried the ball just 11 times for a total of four yards last Sunday. Fixing that should be priority No. 1 as the Showboats come into Detroit.

Can Panthers’ offensive stars get back on track?

Josh Love came into Week 3 as the unquestioned starter for the Panthers. Having earned USFL Offensive Player of the Week to open the season, the gap between him and backup Carson Strong seemed significant.

But Love struggled against the Generals, finishing 15 of 31 for 101 yards and throwing an interception into double coverage. Meanwhile, Strong, who was put in to finish out the first half, engineered a nine-play, 66-yard drive that was capped off with the Panthers’ only touchdown of the game. Love was put back in to start the second half but despite possessing the ball for 30 of the first 37 plays, came up with just one field goal to show for it.

Not only was Love’s performance lacking, but Michigan’s other offensive spark, running back Reggie Corbin, had an uncharacteristically down day. New Jersey held him to just 38 rushing yards on eight carries.

Provided both Love (or maybe even Strong) can get going under center against a struggling Memphis team with the help of Corbin on the ground, the Panthers should be able to right the ship not only this week but again in Week 5 against Pittsburgh, which sits at No. 7 in FOX Sports’ latest power rankings. 

Will Showboats get their first win of the season?

Yes, Memphis is sitting at the bottom of the South Division, but there is a glimmer of hope in former Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Cole Kelley. Despite last week's loss to the Houston Gamblers, Kelley completed 21 of 38 passes for a whopping 307 yards and two touchdowns against one interception.

The Showboats even tied the game against the Gamblers last week on a fourth-down trick play that saw running back Alex Collins take the direct snap and float a pass to tight end Jay Jay Wilson in the back of the end zone for the score.

And while he got help under center, the problem was that Kelley didn’t get much help in the way of a balanced offense overall. If Memphis can figure out its rushing woes and Kelley has another game like last week, it won’t be long before the Showboats show something in the win column.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.